It’s looking more and more likely that for the first time since 2009, the Falcons won’t have Matt Ryan starting under center in a regular season game. Ryan suffered an ankle injury in Week 7’s blowout loss to the Rams, and while he did manage to practice in some capacity on Friday it seems that the team decided it was best to rest him this week.
For the record, I’m totally in favor of this move. There’s no point in rushing Ryan back from injury when the Falcons are 1-6 and facing a 5-2 Seahawks team that’s likely to dominate on both sides of the ball. But Ryan’s absence will be strange for fans, because it’s been a very long time since he’s missed a game. In his stead, Atlanta has veteran QB Matt Schaub: a player with a 16-year career, a 3-time Pro Bowler, and over 92 NFL starts to his name. Schaub has no lack of experience, and has some genuinely good seasons under his belt.
But it’s been a long time since those great years. Schaub last played 16 games in 2012, and last started a regular season game in 2015. He spent the previous three seasons in Atlanta, only playing sparingly and usually as a “close-out-the-game” type of QB. The Falcons could certainly do much worse than Schaub as their backup, but it’s a fair question to ask if Schaub can keep the offense afloat in Ryan’s absence.
Last week against the Rams, Schaub came in—in garbage time, it should be noted—and put together a perfect drive where he went 6-6 for 65 yards and a TD. I don’t think we should predict that type of play from him against the Seahawks, but I think we can expect the offense to at least look functional on Sunday. Seattle is about a league-average defense overall, and they struggle to put pressure on opposing QBs and stop the run. That works out well for the Falcons, who struggle to pass protect and run the ball consistently.
At the end of the day, I expect Schaub to helm a solid version of the Falcons offense. I don’t expect much in the way of downfield throws, and we’re likely to see an even more vanilla scheme than usual. But players like Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Austin Hooper should still see a healthy level of targets. I do expect the running game to be a bigger factor, so look towards Devonta Freeman and Brian Hill to carve out a larger share of the offense on Sunday.
In truth, I’m not sure it would matter much if Ryan started Sunday’s game. The Seahawks are a difficult matchup, and Russell Wilson is playing at an MVP level this season. Atlanta’s defense is probably going to cost the team the game regardless of who winds up behind center. But in terms of watch-ability, Schaub’s play shouldn’t totally torpedo the Falcons offense in Week 8.
What are your thoughts on Schaub getting his first start for Atlanta? Do you think he can keep the offense afloat against Seattle?